Lockerbie trial plan 'agreed by Gaddafi'

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The Independent Online
THE LIKELIHOOD of the two Libyans suspected of the Lockerbie bombing being tried under Scottish law in the Netherlands increased last night after an apparent acceptance by Libya of the joint British-United States proposal.

The precise position remained unclear because a statement from the official Libyan news agency, Jana, stopped short of an unequivocal acceptance of the Anglo-American proposal. It also repeated a demand to end sanctions.

Officials in the Foreign Office and the State Department in Washington cautiously welcomed the tone of the statement but stressed the need for clarification from Tripoli.

The statement said the Libyan ministry "accepts the evolution in the position of the United States and Great Kingdom" but adds that "it reaffirms the necessity of ending the sanctions". It says Libya will "deal positively" with the offer.

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said: "This statement looks like a positive development. We shall need to study exactly what the Libyans have said and ensure that they are not setting any conditions on their acceptance."

A US State department spokesman said that the statement "does not specifically state that Libya is prepared, as called for in UN Security Council resolutions, promptly to turn suspects over for trial".

Alistair Duff, the Scottish lawyer for the two suspects, said the position was still not entirely clear, though the prospect of a trial was nearer.

Mr Duff said: "It is difficult to know exactly what the Libyan government means when they say they accept the new position of Britain and the United States.

"If it means that my two clients are being parcelled up to be transported to The Hague, then that is fairly dramatic. But, on the other hand, the Libyans could mean they are simply accepting the British and US proposal in principle but may not accept it fully. It would still mean that the decision to go to trial at The Hague would be with the accused."

Under the joint UK/US plan, the two suspects would be tried by three Scottish judges under Scottish law in The Hague.

The proposal came on Monday, almost 10 years after the bomb which blew up PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, killing 270 people. The governments agreed that the suspects accused of planting the explosives - Abdel Baset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi and al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah - would be flown to the Netherlands and then extradited to a special Scottish court in The Hague.

Last night's announcement came shortly after the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, met senior aides. Libya had earlier asked the UN Security Council to delay endorsing the plan until it could further study the proposal.

It is believed other Arab countries may have been putting pressure on Libya to accept the latest proposal, to put an end to the long-running stand-off.

The joint offer says the UN would be asked to remove sanction the moment the two men were handed over.